What Does John Wick’s Back Tattoo Say? The Meaning & His Marine Corps Connection

Photo Credit: ansoro / Summit Entertainment / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: ansoro / Summit Entertainment / MovieStillsDB

The John Wick franchise has been popular ever since the first film was released in 2014. Something that’s noticeably missing is any kind of explanation of the titular character’s past; nowhere in the movies, nor in the comic series, is his back story explained. However, director Chad Stahelski has dropped clues audiences can use to piece together what Wick’s life might have previously been like. One theory that’s been circling around is that John Wick’s back tattoo signals to service in the US Marine Corps.

John Wick’s back tattoos

Keanu Reeves as John Wick in 'John Wick 3: Parabellum'
John Wick 3: Parabellum, 2019. (Photo Credit: michaella92 / Summit Entertainment / MovieStillsDB)

Throughout the movies, audiences learn very little about John Wick’s past. That being said, they’re also provided with clues to help them come to feasible conclusions about his early life.

Chad Stahelski said this was an intentional move on his part, as he didn’t want to overload viewers with information; he wanted to let them enjoy the storylines and reflect on Wick’s past later. “We’re giving you the pieces and I think it’s always good… Hopefully in five years, you and your buddies will talk about how ‘he’s this or he’s that.’ We’ll give you a couple more pieces and let you stitch it together,” he said in a 2017 interview.

One of the clues Stahelski provides are the tattoos that cover John Wick’s back. We first see them in the first film. In a shower scene, Wick’s back faces the camera long enough to make out each piece. If audiences look closely enough, they provide a great deal of information about the character.

Inked on Wick’s back are four tattoos. On his right shoulder blade is a howling wolf, while his left features a face shrouded in flames. His left shoulder also features a cross, and there’s a near-perfect depiction of the cupping hands from Albrecht Dürer’s Praying Hands in the center of his back.

While many of these indicate Wick may be a man of faith, the tattoo that runs across the length of his back might be the best indicator of the character’s past. Written in bold letters is the phrase, “FORTIS FORTUNA ADIUVAT.”

fortis Fortuna adiuvat

Illustration of Fortuna, goddess of luck and fortune
Fortuna, the ancient Roman goddess of luck and fortune. (Photo Credit: Engravings on Wood / The Olympus or the Mythology of the Greeks and Romans / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The Latin phrase fortis Fortuna adiuvat roughly translates to “fortune favors the brave.” However, as Latin is a dead language, scholars have argued over the many translations the phrase has. Some have suggested it means “fortune favors the bold,” which isn’t a far cry from the original, but is still technically different.

What most people agree on is that, in all of the contemporary Latin references, the wording featured in John Wick’s back tattoo is not one of them. One thing they all agree on is its reference to Fortuna, the goddess of luck and fortune. She was believed to be a guiding figure who could easily affect one’s fate, and had the ability to both bless or curse one’s actions, with the belief being that those who are brave or bold are rewarded.

When it comes to John Wick’s back tattoo, specifically, many believe it translates to, “Fortune will come to save the strong ones.” Another version is, “It is only the strong ones that Fortuna can save.” Whatever the translation, the message is clear: if someone wants to achieve fortune or success, they have to be confident and bold enough to do so.

John Wick’s back tattoo suggests he served in the US Marine Corps

Keanu Reeves as John Wick in 'John Wick: Chapter 4"
John Wick: Chapter 4, 2023. (Photo Credit: reesdcyar / Summit Entertainment / MovieStillsDB)

While the meaning behind the back tattoo may relate to the plot of the franchise and the line of work John Wick is involved in, it may also be an indicator that the character was a US Marine. It’s no mistake that the phrase was chosen to adorn his back, and those who know, know.

The significance of this phrase is that it bears a striking resemblance to the motto of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. The battalion’s version of the Latin phrase reads, “FORTES FORTUNA JUVAT,” but the meanings between the two are similar enough to suggest a link between Wick and the Marine Corps.

Other indicators of John Wick’s military background

Keanu Reeves as John Wick in 'John Wick'
John Wick, 2014. (Photo Credit: patricklucas / Summit Entertainment / MovieStillsDB)

There are other indicators to suggest John Wick has a background in the Marines Corps. The most obvious is his extremely impressive skill set. Your average joe can’t display handiwork like that, and with no explanations as to how – and where – he possibly learned such moves, fans are convinced it had to have been from military service.

Additionally, throughout the franchise, Wick wears a leather-banded watch. This may seem insignificant, but it’s the way he wears it that’s convinced audiences of his connection to the military. Members of the armed forces often wear their watchface on the inside of their wrist, on the non-dominant hand – just like Wick. This is a tactic to prevent the face’s reflective properties from giving away a person’s position, while also keeping it protected in the field.

More from us: The Most Iconic Last Words in Military History: General John Sedgwick

None of the examples listed above have been proven to confirm John Wick’s history as a Marine, but with his back tattoos, skill set and more, it’s hard to be convinced otherwise.

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!